Saturday, 30 June 2018

When is a Game Too Big

Two corps wargame on a 6x6 foot table
I no longer post on TMP very much, but I do visit the Napoleonic Discussion forum most days.   This is the title of a current discussion about size of wargames.   As with most things involving wargaming there are strongly held views, and conviction that they alone are correct.   I suspect that as with wargame rules there will be almost as many answers to this question as there are wargamers.
When I designed my current campaign I spent some time considering what size I wanted my armies to be.   The most important consideration would be how many figures could comfortably fit on the table, and not be shoulder to shoulder. 

My wargames table is 6x6 foot and I quickly decided that the maximum size per side should be about 200 28mm figures per side.   My table is composed of 9 2x2 foot scenic squares.   Each square could hold about 50 figures.  

I wanted to fight multi corps battles, so each corps would have to be no more than about 50 figures.   Consulting my available figure collection it was soon obvious that each corps would be 32 infantry, 4 cavalry and 1 gun.   This would represent 4x8 figure infantry brigades, 1x4 figure cavalry brigade and 1 gun and four crew.
 One corps per side
The smallest battle would be one corps per side.   My rules require that each brigade must be within 8” of the corps commander to receive orders.  So this small size battle would in effect be fought on the three centre squares of the table.   The corps would deploy at either end of the table, and the centre square would be the contact area.  
Two corps per side

Two corps per side would deploy as shown on the top photo, but would often spread over all three squares wide.   This would lead to very open battles, with lots of space for open flanks, particularly when a brigade routed.
 Three corps per side
Three corps per side would be a major battle.   The CinC would usually be present at this size of battle, so the corps commander freedom of choice was very limited. Only the CinC could decide corps objectives and whether they would engage or attack.   The difference is one of aggression.  On engage orders only cavalry can melee, infantry can only skirmish or volley fire.  On attack orders there is more hand to hand combat, and each combat is much more decisive.  There is still a lot of space on the table, particularly when the CinC (or the terrain) dictates that one area of the table should be avoided.  In this case the large city in the centre, and the hilly approach, make it easier for the British to concentrate on the French flanks, and particularly the French right flank.
Four corps per side
Four corps per side makes for a very congested battlefield.   On the campaign map only one corps can occupy each map square.   That map square becomes one scenic square on the wargames table.  So at the start of the battle there are normally three corps wide, one on each of the three scenic squares.  A fourth corps is often in reserve and usually off the table.   However their arrival must be allowed for in the initial deployment, because otherwise there will not be sufficient space when they arrive on the table.  It is often difficult to find space for all four corps, particularly for artillery and cavalry.   And routs tend to have more effect on adjacent or supporting brigades.

All of the above applies whatever scale you use, whether you have 32 figures representing one infantry battalion or four infantry brigades.   It is a matter of how many figures you can actually fit on your wargames table, and still have space to manoeuvre.   It is interesting that most of the discussion on TMP is driven by personal preference of scale or the size of battalion that “looks right”.

Over the years I have struggled with this problem myself.  At different times my 25/28mm infantry battalions have consisted of 4, 8, 12, 16 and 36 figures.   I have played on the huge tables at Peter Guilders Wargames Holiday Centre, and even then there had to be huge compromise with orders of battle.   I think his tables were 36 x 6 foot.  But even then his corps order of battle had no resemblance to historical ones.   Worse still that whilst it was a real experience to play on those tables, and a visual delight, the actual games were long winded, boring and exhausting (at least for me).

I am sure that very few wargamers would share my views.  The large battalions seem to rule the day, and I can understand why from a visual stance.   But I found in the past that they do not allow for interesting tactical wargames.   Usually they form up shoulder to shoulder and advance across the table resulting is a large melee.   Good fun now and then, but not very interesting for those of us who wargame regularly.  

it is not surprising that there is so many varied answers to this question.   Such a wide range of interests come under the heading of wargamer.  For many the satisfaction will be painting, collecting, planning and researching.   Actual time spent at the table wargaming may well be limited to once a week, a month or even a year.  Yet all consider themselves to be wargamers, and why not.   

 But if you confine yourself to the tabletop experience then surely Napoleonic wargaming must involve large, multi corps battles.  For many players the aim is to refight a major battle such as Waterloo or Leipzig.   To achieve that on the limited table space available to most of us, plus the limited actual time available to compete the game, is a major logistic and tactical problem.   To do so must involve serious compromise.   

And compromise is the very thing that so many wargamers, and particularly Napoleonic wargamers, seem to find it so difficult to do.


  1. As a gamer with limited gaming space, I am thinking that my big battle stuff can be taken care of quite adequately by boardgames, I especially like the Eagles of France system by Hexasim for Napoleonic battles.

    That allows figures on the table to do smaller engagements, or parts of bigger engagements or at least do some bath-tubbing without crossing a line into the ridiculous.

  2. I love your approach, and 8 figure battalions don't bother me. Personally, my armies are 12 figures per battalion (2 stands, 6 per stand) for horse and musket periods before 1855ish, and then down to 10 figures per battalion (2 stands, 5 per stand). Cavalry similarly is 2 stands, 6 figures. While more gamers prefer big units, I find them to be clunky and too large to play with and have much of a choice of tactics in the game due to very restricted space on the table.

  3. Compromise AND thinking 'outside the box' and figuring out what one's own goals are. Your blog provides some excellent examples of how to go about getting the kind of games one wants.

    I am so glad my hobby is one where I do not HAVE to do things the way someone else thinks they should be done. (Not that I won't compromise to get along with friends when appropriate).

  4. An interesting post to read. I do concur with your thoughts about the challenge of too many figures or units on the tabletop sapping the enjoyment when playing regularly, or even as a solo player. Having compromised on the number of units deployed on a tabletop. I find I turn to increasingly to campaigns to represent the scale or larger actions.

  5. Hello Paul,

    I enjoyed reading this latest post and I think you have hit upon something that most wargamers need to come to terms with at some stage, that being the size of units and what those units represent. For years I was a fan of the 'big battalions' but never really got far in actually wargaming with them to the point that they just sat on display shelves until I decided to sell them on to start something new, usually with the same result several months later!

    About 4 years ago or so I did experiment with your rules on my blog, I simply doubled up the unit sizes to 16 infantry, 8 cavalry and a gun per 'corps'. I enjoyed it and had no issue with using the smaller units to represent large formations, I found it was a matter of making that mental adjustment, being a bit more open minded and once I came to terms with that I found it was a game that really flowed. It struck me this morning reading the post that it was probably the last time I really enjoyed a conventional tabletop wargame, which must say something. Since then I have only played Commands & Colors Napoleonics, where you have the same situation of blocks representing large formations.

    Now to the present, I recently acquired a large collection of painted 40mm Peninsular figures from Andrew Copestake of Old Glory UK. Initially my idea was to simply collect them for the display cabinet in our new house in Spain, but I keep thinking that I want to use them on the tabletop and I'm going to start by organising them into a single Corps per side for your rules. I will use 16 infantry, 8 cavalry and a gun plus commander per corps, because I know that works for me visually. I recall that I did receive some negative comments re small unit sizes, but I think they were missing the point that the gain was in the amount of tabletop space one had to actually move the formations around in, and the ability to do more than simply line up both sides for a linear punch up!

    Possibly once I gain some more experience with your rules we could meet up for a game?

    Keep the posts coming Paul,


  6. Hi Lee

    I think we more mature wargamers have all gone through the various stages which younger gamers are just discovering. And like most young people they think they have discovered it for the first time!

    Until I retired and did a major overhaul and reorganisation, I also had large numbers of figures gathering dust, who never got near the wargames table. But with my campaign every single figure, and every single piece of scenery, appears on the table in sequence. Each campaign phase lasts about 6 weeks, and each one has a different army and different area. There are five areas, and five French and allied armies. Each army, and area, is used in sequence.

    I am not at all sure that my rules or organisation would be suitable for most, or possibly many, wargamers. They are really tailored to my table, my collection and my type of wargaming. But the principles can be applied to any collection, preference or objective.

    Thanks for your kind comments about my rules, and particularly that you enjoyed the game you played with them. I am always pleasantly surprised to find that folk still check out the blog I published them on. My intention was to make them available to players in my PBEM campaign. But they still have a few visits each week, with a current total of 40211! They are designed to be fun, fast flowing and to rely to a large extent on the luck of the dice. Certainly not to be taken too seriously.

    I love your 40mm figures and very much look forward to seeing them in the future. I thought that your intention was to do skirmish wargames. But I see that you are planning to game a corps sized battle, using my rules. I think the secret to an enjoyable game is adjusting the number of figures to the size of table available. Whether you then want to call the resulting game battalion or corps sized depends on what size battle you want to fight, and whether the overall look and feel of the game is acceptable to what you want to achieve.

    You would be very welcome to visit us for a wargame anytime. We discussed meeting in Calpe for a coffee, but it might be better to visit us at home and I can explain the rules and play a few moves to demonstrate? We always have a game set up so that we can have a move or two each day. So it would be no trouble for us. If you are like me you will gain much more from an hour or two moving the figures around the table than hours spent reading rules. Particularly my rules which are not written for general consumption.

    Parcent is quite easy to find, and is not very far from Gandia. I could meet you in the village as the house is quite difficult to find.



  7. Hi Peter

    Thanks for your comments.

    I agree that campaigns are the way to go. I think once you have run a campaign it is quite difficult to go back to one off games. But it’s how to transfer the campaign battle to the table top that is the problem.

    I started my campaign just after I retired, when I also had much more time to devote to wargaming. Before then I ran weekly games for a small group of friends. I provided all the figures and scenery and the games were always Napoleonic. So I often struggled to find a new or interesting angle for the weekly game. Running a campaign removes that problem entirely



  8. Hi Norm

    Thanks for your comments

    To be honest I have never used a board game to run a wargames campaign. I wish I had thought to do so, as it would have saved me many hours map making. All aspects of the campaign are provided in one box, all you have to do is work out how to transfer the battles to the wargame table.

    I must read your blog to see how you tackle that problem.



  9. Hi Brent

    Thanks for your comments.

    I suspect that 12 figure infantry battalions are currently the most popular. They are a good compromise between “the look” and “the space”. And for those of us who are old enough to have used In The Grand Manner rules you can get three 12 figure units from one 36 figures one.

    The only reason I choose 8 figures was because it suited the collection of figures I already had. I had a large collection of French and all the allied nations, and they were organised in brigades of 128 infantry, 16 cavalry and 4 guns. From this I could make 4 corps each of 32 infantry, 4 cavalry and 1 gun. Had I planned it from the start, and been prepared to paint up the figures, I would have settled for 12 man battalions.

    I do agree that the only way most of us can fight large battles in 28mm is with small numbers of figures representing brigades and divisions.



  10. Hi Ross Mac

    Thanks for your kind comments about my blog.

    As I have explained in the past, the secret is to work out what you want to do and what you have available to do it. You then have to be pretty ruthless with the compromise.

    I started with a large existing 28mm, 18mm and 6mm collection of Napoleonics. I decided when I retired that my painting days were over, and I wanted to spent more time actually wargaming. I decided the way ahead was to run a long running campaign, which would provide an endless supply of interesting wargames.

    The most important consideration was the size of table available, and how many 28mm figures I could comfortably fit on it. If I could get the larger figures right, the smaller ones would look after themselves.

    I am really pleased with the end result. It has provided Jan and I with 273 campaign battles to wargame since I started it in April 2009. And I can see no reason why it should not continue to do so for as long as we want to do so.

    Although my campaign is designed for my specific requirements, there is no reason why the same principles should not be applied to any rules, any scale, any period and any size of army.

    I do agree that it is good that the hobby can be different things to different people. It has always been so. The great advantage with the current internet age is that we can all make our suggestions and answers available to such a wide audience. No one is suggesting that they all accept the same answer, but it is good that such a wide variety of answers are available so easily.



  11. Hi Peter

    Thanks for your kind comments.

    I remember reading many years ago about the ideal number of “units” for each player to command on the table top. This is slightly different from the actual number of figures, but is equally important.

    If I remember correctly the ideal was 6 to 10. It didn’t matter how many figures were in each unit, or what the unit represented. The idea was that you could easily handle a small number of different formations, but that it because increasingly difficult as the number increased.

    Each of our corps has four infantry brigades, one cavalry brigade and one gun. I find such a small number frustrating, as the loss of just one brigade usually means you have lost the game.

    Two corps and 12 elements make for a comfortable game. Three corps and 18 elements requires some concentration. When all four corps are on the table and there are 24 elements I find it quite difficult to keep track of each brigade strength and combat ability.



  12. A most interesting post Paul.

    In some ways wargamers may not be as far apart as you think. As you have so clearly surmised, it's about how one works the trade-off of resources available (figures, table, space, time) with personal preference for the visual effect that looks 'right' and the rules being used (or sought). You have clearly and logically come to a conclusion that is the best solution for the equation in your case. Another may well come to a different answer, but the values of each of the variables will also likely differ.

    A key, as you say, is mutual respect, which is fortunately as abundant on these blogs as it seems to be so often lacking on TMP. :)

    One of the great joys of the number and variety of blogs is to see how others do it. Sometimes you want to try to adapt ideas for your own situation, but in many cases it is a mere pleasure to see and enjoy figures, games and reports vicariously and to bathe in the common love (obsession) of the hobby!

    I certainly enjoy reading, viewing or merely skimming your posts.

    All the best,


  13. Hi James

    Thanks for your comments

    I am sure that you are right that most wargamers attempt to solve this problem, and that many will find different solutions to meet their different objectives.

    It is also interesting that there is a large degree of mutual respect on blogs, but the opposite on TMP. I would go further and say online generally, because I have found even worse on rule related forums.

    Like you I also like to surf my favourite blogs. We are so used to being able to do so that I suspect we forget how difficult it was “back in the day”. My favourite part of Wargamers Newsletter was the few letters printed. Even when the more professional magazines came along you would have to wait weeks for a comment to be posted.

    I hope that you continue to enjoy visiting the blog

    best regards


  14. I am coming back to this one after commenting on your next post and perhaps giving it more thought. I am not convinced that the problem is merely one of scale or unit size or even pretty colours. yes it's simple to suspend belief and call a unit anything from a battalion to a corps but I'm not sure that's enough. I liked both Snappy Nappy, Blucher and of late BBB and I think it's down to the fact that all of them aim straight to the subject of control, manoeuvre and indeed really suspending belief by divorcing units from numbers of figures or indeed scales. At this level of control the systems require almost a board game like approach to play using combat values etc.
    I see references to Wargamers newsletter in early comments and perhaps one of my favourite articles was entitled " I'm worried about the Inniskillings" a quite brilliant piece about the gamer's favourite unit. It highlights the drums and glory approach of the uniforms and battalions style of play. I think it's this idea we need to leave behind when playing at army and corps level, where the game becomes more a question of numbers, stamina and manoeuvre. Perhaps not so legendary as the charging hussars but more a way of emulating the Wellingtons and Napoleons.
    However you play it's a question of enjoyment and I get pleasure from both. Long may it last.

    Bob De Angelis


I have set the settings for comments to come to me before posting so that I will not miss any